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"The weak dollar hurts," said Rita Jones, at the fairs for the first time to source knits for her Cincinnati shop and online site, Isle of Skye Cashmere. "But we're still looking for beautiful items with that special something. Our customers will pay for quality and something a little bit different — Italians do that without veering into weird."
Buyers were down 4 percent from last September's edition to 6,100 for Touch, Neozone and Cloudnine, organized by Pitti Immagine. Foreign visitors decreased from over one-fifth of the total last fall to 18 percent, but European buyers represented five out of the top seven countries attending.
Meanwhile, at White, organizer Massimiliano Bizzi said vendors were stable at 200 and foreign buyers rose 24 percent, particularly from Spain and Greece. Americans and Japanese still frequent the Milan fairs, he noted, but they buy using "even more discretion" due to current exchange rates.
Jones of Isle of Skye liked cashmere T-shirts with circus-inspired graphics at Ultràchic, a Milan-based five-time Neozone veteran carried at Saks Fifth Avenue in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Victoire in Paris and Takashymaia in Tokyo. Designer Diego Dossola, who wore a plastic clown face pendant necklace and offered candy to visitors, also showed whimsical flats in black and red patent leather with cartoon eyes and noses on the toes.
Vendors weren't about to give up on the dollar just yet, though.
At Paris designer Michel Harcourt's stand, a sales assistant emphasized to onlookers in English that "prices were good." Silk was available at many booths, but the hand-painted shifts and satin dresses with prominent bows here were especially striking.
Harcourt managing director Jean-Yves Martin explained that the strong euro led the firm to draw up a second price list for the U.S. in dollars, reflecting prices lower than what they would be converted from the euro. That meant a smaller margin for Harcourt, but the strategy worked, drawing American retailers like Searle in New York, which placed orders for items including satin blouses with oversize bows and double crepe knee-length black dresses.